Evacuations accelerate as storm approaches Louisiana

Oil and gas operators accelerated their evacuations of Gulf of Mexico facilities as Hurricane Gustav sped away from Cuba and seemed headed for landfall Sept. 1 west of New Orleans.

By OGJ Editors
HOUSTON, Aug. 31 -- Oil and gas operators accelerated their evacuations of Gulf of Mexico facilities on Aug. 31 as Hurricane Gustav sped away from Cuba and seemed headed for landfall Sept. 1 west of New Orleans.

At midday Aug. 30, the US Minerals Management Service said operators had moved workers off 223 of the 717 production platforms in the gulf.

Workers also were removed from 45 of the 121 drilling rigs operating in the gulf.

MMS estimated that 76.8% of the gulf's recent oil production of 1.3 million b/d was shut in. Shut-in gas production represented 37.2% of recent output estimated at 7.4 bcfd.

While a complete list wasn't immediately available, several major companies had announced refinery closures as of Aug. 31.

ExxonMobil Corp. said the 192,500 b/d Chalmette Refining LLC refinery in Louisiana was being shut down.

ConocoPhillips said it was idling the 247,000 b/d Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse, La., and the 440,000 b/d refinery at Lake Charles, La.

Industry preparations
On Apr. 28, the American Petroleum Institute issued a report on preparation adjustments the oil and gas industry has made since Hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina and Rita in 2005.

API noted that during those storms, waves were higher and winds were stronger than anticipated in deeper parts of the gulf. The industry therefore no longer views the gulf as a uniform body of water.

A central portion is now seen as more hurricane-prone because it can be a gathering spot for warm currents that can strengthen the storms.

In response to revised wind, wave, and water-current measurements (so-called metocean data), API reassessed its recommended practices (RPs) for industry operations in the region.

Operators continue to integrate the updated environmental (metocean) data on how powerful storms affect conditions in the gulf offshore structure design standards. This effort led to the publication in 2008 of a final update to RP 2SK, Design and Analysis of Stationkeeping Systems for Floating Structures, that provides guidance for design and operation of mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) mooring systems in the gulf during the hurricane season.

This update replaces API RP 95F, Interim Guidance for Gulf of Mexico MODU Mooring Practice. API RP 95J, Gulf of Mexico Jack-up Operations for Hurricane Season, was also updated and is no longer considered an interim standard. This standard recommends locating jack-up rigs on more stable areas of the sea floor and positioning platform decks higher above the sea surface.

Downstream changes
Since the 2005 storms, API said, refiners and pipeline companies have:

--Participated in industry conferences to share best practices and improvement opportunities.

--Worked with utilities to clarify priorities for electric power restoration critical to restarting operations and to help minimize significant disruptions to fuel distribution and delivery.

--Expanded on-site backup electric power generation capability or identified and located or leased backup generation equipment that may be positioned as needed.

--Established redundant communications systems to support continuity of operations and locate employees.

--Worked with vendors to preposition food, water, and transportation equipment and plan for other emergency supplies and services.

--Provided additional training for employees, who have participated in various exercises and drills.

--Reexamined and improved emergency response and business continuity plans.

--Strengthened onshore buildings and elevated equipment where appropriate to minimize potential flood damage.

--Worked with states to provide documentation to employees who need access to disaster sites where access is restricted by state and local law enforcement.

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